Read CHAPTER XI of The Hound From The North , free online book, by Ridgwell Cullum, on ReadCentral.com.

CANINE VAGARIES

The last stage of the girls’ journey the ride home from the ranch was like some horrible nightmare. It was as though recollection had suddenly turned itself into a hideous, tangible form which was pursuing them over the dark expanse of prairie. Even their horses seemed to share something of their riders’ fears, for their light springing stride never slackened during that ten miles’ stretch, and they had to be literally forced down to a walk to give them the necessary “breathing.” Like their riders, the animals’ one idea seemed to be to reach the security of the farm with all possible dispatch.

The farm dogs heralded their approach, and when the girls slid down from their saddles Hephzibah was at the threshold waiting for them. The rest of the evening was spent in recounting their adventures. Hephzibah listened to their narrative, filled with superstitious emotion whilst endeavouring to treat the matter in what she deemed a practical, common-sense manner. She was profoundly impressed. Hervey was there, but chose to treat their story with uncompromising incredulity. So little was he interested, although he listened to what was said, as to rouse the indignation of both girls, and only his sudden departure to bed saved a stormy ending to the scene.

It was not until the house was locked up, and Prudence and Alice were preparing to retire they shared the same bedroom that Hephzibah Malling dropped her mask of common-sense and laid bare the quaintly superstitious side of her character. The good farm-wife had not lived on the prairie all her life without contracting to the full the superstitions which always come to those whose lives are spent in such close communion with Nature. She could talk freely with these two girls when no one else was present. She had heard a hundred times the legends pertaining to the obscure valley of Owl Hoot, but this was the first time that she had heard the account of these things from eye-witnesses.

She came into the girls’ bedroom arrayed in a red flannel dressing-gown, which had shrunk considerably under the stress of many washings, and her night-cap with its long strings, white as driven snow, enveloped her head like a miniature sun-bonnet. She came with an excuse upon her lips, and seated herself in a rigid rush-bottomed chair. Prudence was brushing her hair and Alice was already in bed.

“My dears,” she said, as she plumped herself down; she was addressing them both, but her round eyes were turned upon Alice, who was sitting up in bed with her hands clasped about her knees, “I’ve been thinking that maybe we might ask young Mr. Chillingwood out here. It’s quite a time since I’ve seen him. He used to come frequent-like before before ” with a sharp glance over at her daughter, “a few months back. He’s a good lad, and I thought as he’d make quite a companion for Hervey. An’ it ’ud do ’em a deal of good to air them spare rooms. I’m sure they’re smelling quite musty. What say?”

Alice blushed and Hephzibah’s old eyes twinkled with pleasure. Prudence answered at once

“That’s a good idea, mother, I’ll write to him at once for you.” Then she turned her smiling face upon the old lady and shook a forefinger at her. “You’re an arch-plotter, lady mother. Look at Alice’s face. That’s not sunburn, I know.”

“Maybe it isn’t maybe it isn’t,” replied Mrs. Malling, with a comfortable chuckle, whilst her fat face was turned up towards a gorgeous wool-worked text which hung directly over the head of the bed, “though I’ll not say but what a day in the sun like she’s just had mightn’t have redded the skin some.”

“I am very sun-burnt,” said Alice consciously.

“Why, we’ve been in the forest, where there’s no sun, nearly all day,” exclaimed Prudence quickly.

“Ah, them forests them forests,” observed Hephzibah, in a pensive tone of reflection. “Folks says strange things about them forests.”

“Yes,” put in Alice, glad to turn attention from herself, “usually folks talk a lot of nonsense when they attribute supernatural things to certain places. But for once they’re right, mother Hephzy; I shall never disbelieve in ghosts again. Oh, the horror of it it was awful,” and the girl gave a shudder of genuine horror.

“And could you see through ’em?” asked the old lady, in a tone of suppressed excitement.

“No, mother,” chimed in Prudence, leaving the dressing-table and seating herself on the patchwork coverlet of the bed. “They seemed quite solid.”

“But they wore long robes,” said Alice.

“Did they now?” said Mrs. Malling, wagging her head meaningly. “But the lore has it that spectres is flimsy things as ye can see through like the steam from under the lid of a stewpan.”

“Ye es,” said Alice thoughtfully.

“All I can say is, that I wonder George Iredale can live beside that graveyard. I tell you, mother, there’s no arguing away what we saw. They came up out of one of those graves and marched in a procession into the ruined dead-house,” said Prudence seriously.

“And my mare nearly threw me in her fright.” Alice’s face had paled at the recollection.

Hephzibah nodded complacently. She was thoroughly enjoying herself.

“True true. That’s just how ’tis. Animals has an instinct that ain’t like to human. They sees more. Now maybe your horses just stood of a tremble, bimeby like? That’s how it mostly takes ’em.”

Under any other circumstances the two girls would probably have laughed at the good lady’s appreciation of the supposed facts. But their adventures were of too recent a date; besides, they believed themselves. The gloom of the forest seemed to have got into their bones, and the horrid picture was still with them.

“The Haunted Hill,” said Prudence musingly. “I don’t think I ever heard in what way the valley was haunted. Have you, mother?”

“Sakes alive, girl, yes. It’s the way you have said, with fantastic fixin’s added accordin’ to taste. That’s how it come I never believed. Folks disagreed about the spooks. They all allowed as the place was haunted, but their notions wasn’t just alike. Your poor father, child, was a man o’ sense, an’ he argued as plain as a tie-post. He said there was fabrications around that valley ’cause of the variating yarns, and I wouldn’t gainsay him. But, as Sarah says, when the washing don’t dry white there’s mostly a prairie fire somewheres around. Your father was that set on his point that he wouldn’t never go an’ see for himself, although, I do say, I urged him to it for the sake of truth.”

Prudence yawned significantly and Alice had snuggled down on to her pillow. The former clambered in beneath the clothes.

“Well, mother, all I can say is, that never again, unless I am forced to, will I visit Owl Hoot. And under any circumstances I will never run the risk of getting benighted there.”

“Well, well,” said the farm-wife, rising heavily to her feet and preparing to depart, “maybe George would like to hear about the thing you’ve seen when he comes back.” She paused on her way to the door, and turned an earnest face upon the two girls. “Say, children, you didn’t see no blue lights, did ye?”

“No, mother Hephzy,” said Alice sleepily. “There were no blue lights.”

“Ah,” in a tone of relief. “There’s no gainsaying the blue lights. They’re bad. It means death, children, death, does the blue light sure.” And the good lady passed out of the room with the shuffling gait which a pair of loose, heelless slippers contrived to give her.

“Prue,” said Alice, when the door had closed, “when are you going to ask Robb to come?”

“As soon as possible, if you like.”

“Thanks. Good-night, dear; mother Hephzy is a sweet old thing.”

The two girls turned over, and in a few moments were sleeping soundly. It would have taken more than the recollections of their adventures to banish sleep from their tired eyes. They slept the sweet refreshing sleep of those who have passed their waking hours in the strong, bracing air of the prairie.

Two days later Hervey was abroad early. He was cleaning his guns outside the back door of the house. Two weapons were lying upon a large dust sheet which was spread out upon the ground. The guns were in pieces, and each portion had been carefully oiled and wiped. He was now devoting his attention to a heavy revolver.

Prudence was standing in the kitchen doorway watching her brother. Andy was over by the barn superintending the dispatch of the teams to the harvest fields; the hands were preparing to depart to their work. Prudence’s early morning work was in the creamery.

Hervey looked up from the weapon he was cleaning, and turned his great eyes upon his sister.

“When is this fellow coming out here?” he asked in a tone of irritation. His question was merely the result of his own train of thought. He had not been speaking of any one in particular.

“Who? Robb Chillingwood?”

“Yes, of course. I’ve not heard of any one else’s coming.”

“We’ve asked him for a fortnight to-day. Why?”

Hervey ran the cleaning-rod through a couple of the chambers of the pistol before he spoke again. The rag jammed in the barrel and entailed a hard pull to extract it.

“Who asked him to come?” he went on, as he re-adjusted the piece of rag in the eye of the rod.

“Mother did. He’s a very nice fellow.” Prudence looked over at the parade of “Shire” teams as they started for the fields. “Alice and he are engaged to be married, you know.”

“And I suppose he’s coming out here to ‘spoon’ her ugh! It’s sickening.”

“Don’t be so brutal,” the girl replied sharply.

“Brutal?” Hervey laughed coarsely. “You’re getting particular. The house won’t be a fit place to live in with an engaged couple in it. I should have thought mother would have known better than to have asked him.”

“Don’t be absurd.”

Prudence moved from her stand. The dog, Neche, had slowly emerged from round the corner of the barn, and was now mouching leisurely towards her. She went over to meet him and caress his great ugly head.

“I’m not absurd.” Hervey followed her movements with no very friendly gaze. He hated with an unreasonable hatred to see her go near the dog. “I know what engaged couples are. Look at the way some of the clowns around here carry on with their girls. When Mr. Robb Chillingwood takes up his abode here, I shall depart, I tell you straight. I think mother should have consulted me first. But, there, I suppose that little vixen Alice arranged it all. I hate that chum of yours.”

“There’s nothing like mutual regard, whatever its quality,” laughed Prudence; but there was a look of anger in her deep brown eyes. “You are at liberty to please yourself as to your goings or comings they make no difference to the work of the farm.”

The girl’s face was turned defiantly upon her brother. Hervey spun the chambers of the pistol round. His eyes remained upon the weapon, and his forefinger pressed sharply upon the trigger. He looked thoughtfully over the fore-sight and rested the pistol in the crook of his upraised, bent left arm. His attitude was one of taking steady aim. He made no reply.

Suddenly Prudence felt the bristling of Neche’s mane under her hand. And she sought to soothe him. This dog’s displays of sudden temper were as unaccountable as they were fierce.

“What are you going to do to-day?” she asked, as her brother did not speak and the dog quietened.

“Going over to Iredale’s place. Why?”

“When shall you return?”

“Don’t know.” Hervey turned; his pistol was pointing towards his sister.

“Well, what about the ‘thresher’? You and Andy were going to get it Look out!”

Her exclamation came with a shriek. The great husky had dashed from her side and made a charge towards its master. Its lips were drawn up, and its fearful, bared fangs gleamed in the morning light. Hervey lowered his weapon with a laugh. The dog paused irresolute, then, with a wicked growl, it turned back and sought again the girl’s caressing hand.

“One of these days I’ll give you something to snarl at, you d d cur,” Hervey said, between his clenched teeth. Then he turned at the sound of his mother’s voice. The old lady was standing in the kitchen doorway.

“What’s all the fuss about?” she asked, turning her round eyes from one to the other. “Quarrelling again, I’ll be bound. Breakfast’s ready, so just come in, both of you, or the ‘slap-jacks’ ’ll all be spoiled.”

Prudence glanced covertly in the dog’s direction as she obeyed the summons. She was fearful that the brute contemplated a further attack upon its master. In spite of the constant bickerings which took place between these two, the girl had no desire that her brother should be hurt.

Hervey spoke not a word during the morning meal, except to demand the food he required, and his surliness had a damping effect on those about him, and it was with a sigh of relief that his mother at last rose from the table and began to gather the plates preparatory to clearing away. Once, as Hervey moved slowly towards the door to return to his guns, she looked as though she were going to speak. But the words died on her lips, and she ambled off to the wash-house without speaking.

The atmosphere cleared when Hervey mounted his horse and rode off. His mother looked after him, sighed and shrugged; then she went on with her work with a touch of her old cheerful manner about her. No complaint ever passed her lips, but, to those who knew the kindly old face, the change that had come over it was very apparent. The smooth forehead was ploughed deeply with wrinkles which were new to it, and the eyes had lost something of their expression of placid content.

But Hervey travelled his own road at his own gait. His thoughts he kept to himself. The man was more or less inscrutable to those about him.

To-day he had taken his dog with him. He had at length made up his mind to rid himself of the brute. The exhibition of that morning had decided him upon a course which he had long meditated, but had always failed to carry out when the critical moment arrived.

The hound limped along beside its master’s horse as they plunged into the deep woods of the Owl Hoot Valley. Nor did he show the least sign of wishing to wander from “heel.” He followed on the beaten track, stubbornly keeping pace with the horse in spite of the fact of only possessing three legs.

Arrived at the ranch Hervey handed over his horse to Chintz and proceeded into the woods on foot. To-day he meant to move out in a new direction. The valley beyond the Haunted Hill had been done regularly by him; now he was intent upon the hills on the south. Access to this region was obtained by the one other practicable exit from the valley; namely, the Haunted Hill, and then by bearing away to the right. He breasted the steep slopes of the hill and soon came upon the narrow overgrown trail which at some period had been hewn by the early settlers of the district.

Here he tramped along steadily, the hound limping at his heels. He walked slowly, with that long, lazy gait of a man accustomed to walking great distances. He gave little heed to his surroundings as far as the beauties of the place were concerned. He was not the man to regard Nature’s handiwork in the light of artistic effects. His great roving eyes were never still; they moved swiftly from side to side, eagerly watching for the indication of game either furred or feathered. It seemed as though this sport was as the breath of life to him. Now and again his gaze would turn upon the hound behind him, and, on these occasions, the movement was evidently the result of some sudden, unpleasant thought, and had nothing to do with the sportsman’s watchfulness which makes him seek to discover, in the alert canine attitude, some keener instinct of the presence of game than is possessed by the human being.

Almost without forewarning the road, after rounding an abrupt bend, suddenly opened out on to the graveyard clearing. It was the first time in Hervey’s many wanderings in these regions that he had actually come across this obscure little cemetery. For a moment, as he gazed upon it, he hardly realized what it was. Then, as he noted the ruined hut in the middle, the wooden fencing broken and tumbled about the place, and the armless and sadly leaning crosses and the various-shaped slabs of stone which marked the graves, he remembered the weird story his sister and her friend had told, and, advancing, he leant upon one of the fence posts and looked about him curiously.

He stood for some moments quite still. The place was silent with the peaceful calm of a sweltering August day. Hervey’s eyes moved from one vaguely outlined grave to another, and unconsciously he counted them. Thirteen graves in all were visible amongst the long grass. Then his eyes turned upon the ruined hut. The roof had fallen in, and broken rafters protruded above the still standing walls of pine logs. The casing of the doorway remained, but the door had gone, and in its place hung a piece of tattered sacking. There was one small window, but this had been boarded over. The building was largely covered with lichen, and weeds had grown out of the mud-filling daubed in between the logs. There was something very desolate but wondrously peaceful about the place.

The master’s curiosity seemed to have communicated itself to the hound, for the animal slowly, and with uncertain tread, moved off within the enclosure. Neche’s movements were furtive; strangely so. But though Hervey’s eyes now followed the dog’s actions, it was merely the result of the attraction of the one moving object within the range of his vision, and not with any purpose of his own. In fact, it is doubtful if, at first, the animal’s movements conveyed any meaning to the watching man. The moments slipped away and the dog snuffed inquiringly at the various curious objects its wolfish eyes beheld.

It stretched out its neck across one grave and snuffed at the projecting arm of a wooden cross. Then it drew back sharply with its little upstanding ears twitching with a motion of attention and canine uncertainty. Then the wolf head was turned in the direction of its master, and its unblinking gaze was fixed upon his face. The animal stood thus with ears constantly moving, turning this way and that, listening for any strange sound that might chance upon the air. Then with a dignified movement, so expressive of ill-concealed curiosity, it turned away to continue investigations in other directions.

The dog’s show of indifference only lasted for a moment. In limping towards the central hut the animal stepped on to the only path which was not overgrown with rank vegetation. The instant its foot touched the sandy soil its head went down until its nose touched the ground. Then followed a loud snuff. The dog’s great mane bristled ominously, and a low growl sounded significantly upon the still air. Now Hervey’s gaze instantly became one of keen intelligence. His thoughts no longer wandered, but were of the present. He watched the movements of the hound with the profoundest interest.

The dog moved a step or two forward. Its attitude was as though it wished to make no mistake. The snuffing came short, quick and incisive. Then the great head was raised, and the snuffing continued upon the air. Now the nose turned in the direction of the hut, then it turned back to the opposite direction of the path. Hervey remained motionless where he stood, and his thoughts were filled with wondering speculation.

Suddenly the dog darted off down the path, away from the hut. There was something very like the sleuth in its attitude. Nor did it pause until the path terminated at a stone-covered grave. Here the brute’s eagerness was displayed to the full. Its excitement was intense. The low growls became more frequent and tense. The bristling mane, so thick and wolfish, fairly quivered in its rigidity. Balancing itself on its one hind foot it tore away at the baked earth around the stone with its huge fore-paws, as though it would tear up the whole grave and lay bare the mouldering bones it contained.

Hervey encouraged the eager hound.

“See ek ’em,” he hissed, in an undertone.

The dog responded, making the earth fly beneath its sharp claws. The animal’s excitement had communicated itself to its master, and the man’s great eyes glowed strangely. He now moved from his position and came over to the dog’s side. He stooped down and examined the place where the dog had been working. He pushed his fingers deep into the hollow which the vigorous claws had made. The next instant he drew them back sharply, and a faint ejaculation escaped him. He straightened himself up and pushed the dog roughly away from the spot.

“Come here, you cur,” he muttered. “Come over to the hut.”

The dog obeyed with reluctance, and Hervey had to keep a clutch upon the beast’s mane to hold him to his side. He half dragged him and half led him up the path until they neared the ruin. Then with a bound the dog leapt forward and rushed in beneath the sacking which covered the doorway, giving tongue to little yelps of eagerness as he went.

Hervey was about to follow, but a strange sound beneath his feet attracted him and made him pause. He listened. The noise went on. It was very faint but quite distinct, and very like the regular fall of a hammer. He called instantly to the dog. Neche’s head appeared from beneath the canvas, but he showed unusual signs of disobedience. Instantly, Hervey seized him by the mane, then, subdued and sulky, the animal allowed himself to be dragged from the building. Hervey did not relax his hold until he and the dog were well clear of the place, and were once more buried from view within the depths of the woods.

For a moment, when the hound regained its freedom, it stood still and turned its head back towards the place they had just left, but a threatening command from the man brought him to heel at once, and there was no further bother. It was strange the relations which existed between this curiously-assorted pair. There could be no doubt that Hervey hated the dog, and the dog’s regard for its master was of doubtful quality. As a rule, it would fawn in a most servile manner, but its attitude, the moment its master’s back was turned, was always morose and even truculent. Hervey had told his sister that the dog was as treacherous as an Indian. But Hervey was not a keen observer, or he would have added, “and as wicked as a rattlesnake.”

The two tramped on all that day, but there was little shooting done. Hervey also seemed to have utterly forgotten his intention to shoot the dog. Time after time jack-rabbits got up and dashed off into the woods, but there followed no report of the gun. Prairie chicken in the open glades whirred up from the long succulent grass, but Hervey paid no heed, and when several deer trotted across the man’s path, and the gun remained tucked under his arm, it plainly showed the pre-occupied state of his mind.

The truth was that Hervey was thinking with a profundity that implied something which must very nearly affect his personal interests. And these personal interests, at the moment, centred round George Iredale and the graveyard. He had discredited the story the girls had told as he would discredit anything which pertained to the supernatural. But now he had learned something which put an entirely different meaning to the adventures the two girls had related. It is easy enough to mystify the simple human mind, but dogs’ instincts are purely practical, and, as Hervey argued, ghosts do not leave a hot scent. Neche had lit upon a hot scent. At first the man had been doubtful as to what that scent was. Graveyards on the prairie are places favoured by the hungry coyote, and he had been inclined to believe that such was the trail which the dog had discovered. But his own investigations had suggested something different.

The grave which the dog had attacked so furiously was no ordinary grave, for, in thrusting his hand into the hole the dog had made at the edge, he had found that beneath the stone was a cavity. Then had come the recollection of the faint pounding he had distinctly heard beneath the ground. And instantly the story the girls had related assumed a human aspect. Without hesitation he told himself that they had not seen spectres marching in procession through the mysterious graveyard, but real, live, human beings. What, he asked himself, was the meaning of it? What strange occupation was George Iredale’s in this lonely valley? Where was Iredale now? Where did he go to when he moved out of the district on business, and what was the nature of the business? To Hervey it was no great step from questions of this sort to a general answer. And, when he reviewed the isolation, the secret nightly doings, the unsuitability of the district to cattle-raising, and the great wealth of the owner, all made since his sojourn in the country, it was no difficult task for his thoughts to suggest some felonious undertaking. But the one question for which he could find no reasonable reply was that which asked the nature of the doings which seemed to go on at night in the shadow of those dense forests.

He tramped on heedless of the passing time. His discovery had roused him to a pitch of excitement which swayed his thoughts in the direction they would naturally incline. In what manner could he turn his discovery to account? His sense of proportion quickly balanced his ideas. He must at all costs learn the secret of the graveyard, and if it was, as he believed, some “crooked” dealings upon which Iredale was engaged, the rest would be easy. All he wanted was money, and the owner of Lonely Ranch had plenty and to spare.

The sun was quite low over the horizon when he at length turned his steps again in the direction of the ranch. He was hungry; he had eaten nothing since breakfast.

Hervey was not the man to be disturbed by any scruples with regard to the hospitality of the owner of Lonely Ranch. He partook of the ample supper which Chintz had prepared for him without the slightest compunction. And when it was finished he idled the time away smoking one of Iredale’s best cigars with the utmost enjoyment. He watched the shadows grow and deepen. He waited until the blue vault of the sky had changed its hue to the indescribable shadow which follows in the wake of the daylight, and the sparkling diamonds of night shone out upon its surface; then he called for his horse and set out ostensibly for Loon Dyke.

He rode away down the valley until he was clear of the woods; then, leaving the prairie trail, he turned away to the right, and, describing a wide semi-circle, doubled back into the woods again, taking a course which lay to the eastwards, parallel to the valley of the ranch. Now he quickened his pace, and the hound, limping laboriously at his horse’s heels, had difficulty in keeping up with him. Nor did he draw rein until he reached the wide hollow which backed the graveyard hill. Here, however, he dismounted, and secured his horse to a tree. Then he removed the reins from his horse’s bridle, and proceeded to secure the hound in an adjacent position. The night had quite closed in and the darkness of the woods was profound when he started to make his way up the side of the hill in the direction of the graveyard.

Hervey paused for nothing. His mind was clearly made up. Whatever weakness may have been his there was none to be traced in his actions now. He saw ahead of him the possibilities of furthering his own interests, and he revelled in the thought of George Iredale’s wealth. The despicable methods he was adopting troubled him not in the least. Iredale should pay dearly if his work partook of the nature of crime.

Hervey entertained no friendship for any one. The greed of gold was his ruling passion. He cared nothing from whom it was obtained, or by what means. If things were as he believed them to be, then was this a truly golden opportunity. And he would bleed Iredale to the very limits of his resources.

He reached the outskirts of the clearing, but he did not leave the obscurity of the forest. The black recesses served him for a hiding-place from which he could obtain a perfect view of the ghostly enclosure. The tumbled hut and the weirdly-outlined graves with their crowning monuments showed up distinctly in the starlight. And he settled himself for a long vigil.

An hour passed without result. It was weary work, this waiting. He dared not move about, for at every movement of his feet upon the ground the rotting vegetation crunched and crackled loudly in the profundity of silence. The man’s patience, however, was long-enduring under such circumstances. He told himself that the result would more than recompense him for the trouble. He had everything to gain, and the task appealed to him. Two hours passed and still not a sound broke the awful stillness. Then came the first sign. Suddenly a bright light shone out down in the valley in the direction where Iredale’s house stood. It gleamed luridly, almost red, in its depth of yellow. Hervey held his breath, so deep was his excitement and the feeling of anticipation.

The sudden appearance of the light was the signal for further demonstration. The prolonged screech of an owl replied to it. The screech, so shrill and ear-piercing, gave the watcher such a nerve-racking moment as to almost urge him to beat a hasty retreat. But the cry died away, and, as the echoes grew fainter and eventually became silent, he recovered himself. A moment passed and another cry split the air, only this time it came from across the valley on the opposite heights. Hervey stood with ears straining. He had detected something curious in the sound of those cries. Then as the second died away a single word muttered below his breath voiced his discovery.

“Human!” he said to himself, and a feeling of unholy joy swept over him, and he drew a pistol from his pocket and his hand gripped its butt significantly.

His eyes were still turned in the direction of the house where the light was burning when a scraping noise suddenly drew his attention to the graveyard before him. The scraping continued, and sounded like the grinding of an axe upon a whetstone. It distinctly came from one of the graves, and, for a moment, he experienced a shudder of superstitious fear. The next moment he suppressed a chuckle as he realized that the sound came from the grave at the side of which Neche had made such a demonstration that morning. He gazed in the direction, his great eyes burning with the lurid fires of pent-up excitement and speculation. What was the secret he was about to learn? He longed to draw closer to the spot, but he knew that he dared not move.

Suddenly a vague shadow loomed up from amongst the grass which grew so rankly in the cemetery. Up, up it rose, black even against the background of utter darkness in which the forest was bathed. Hervey leaned forward, his eyes straining and every nerve tense-drawn. What was this thing?

The shadow paused. Then it rose higher. It seemed to suddenly straighten up, and Hervey permitted a deep breath to escape him. The black figure had assumed the shape of a man, and the form moved forward towards the log dead-house. Then the waiting man saw that other figures were following the first in rapid succession. Each figure was bearing its burden. Some seemed to be carrying bundles, some carried that which appeared to be boxes, and others carried small square packages. As Hervey’s eyes became used to the strange scene he was able to distinguish something of the habiliments of these denizens of the grave. He noted the long, dark, smock-shaped garment each figure wore, and, after a while, in the starlight, he was able to note that most of them wore on their heads little skull-caps. Then a muttered exclamation broke from his lips, and in his tone was a world of satisfaction.

“Chinese!” he whispered. Then: “Traffic in yellow, by all that’s holy!”